Saturday, May 2, 2009

Rural Firefighters

Well, here we are, both firies! Having signed up as volunteers just before Christmas, we have been trainees for some time, learning the ropes ... or lines as firemen call them ... and generally getting in the way on more than one occasion.

We have not been allowed to attend any real fires but had one exciting Controlled Burn. The school had to clear a block for future classrooms and we were requested to burn the piles of logs and debris that resulted from the clearing. I was allowed to use the drip torch to start one pile of logs and WHOOOOOSH, up it went. Quite scary really, seeing how quickly a fire takes off.

After that, I got to use a hose and direct it to keep the remaining trees safe and control the blaze generally. All of which was fun. It wasn't fun standing around for the next two hours waiting for the blaze to die down and eventually go out. But there you go!!

Our Assessment Day for our FM1 was yesterday. We arrived at the station at 7.45am, all dressed in our PPE (yellow trousers, jacket, white helmet, black boots and leather gloves). Our Assessor Graham arrived from the mainland and we were joined with trainees from nearby Russell Island and Karagara Island. Graham explained what we would be doing for the day and we then divided up into teams.

Guy and I joined with Bev from Karagara and were directed to our first test. This was Coms. We each took a radio and a typed scenario and had to call in to base to report an incident, etc. Very basic stuff but something we need to know, so it was important to show that we could do it. I had practised HEAPS for this, memorising all my phonetic alphabet. So I was pretty despondent when our Assessor didn't ask me to spell anything. Darn!!!

Next test was to check a truck inventory. Unfortunately, they had picked the one truck in our station which was not up to scratch. We are going to replace it very shortly so lots of the equipment on it has been commandeered for other trucks. So the inventory was short of a great many things. Another problem was that there is equipment on top of the truck. One safety aspect which is drummed into trainees is the 3 point hold when you are climbing up or descending from a vehicle. Well, I had got up on top of the truck but when I came to descend, the Chief Assessor (just call him GOD) was standing there watching me. Sigh! There were no handholds, I knew that. I waited. And waited. He waited. And waited. So I jumped. He looked at me ... I looked at him. He smiled and turned away. Whew!!

Then we had to go upstairs for an oral test about fire footprints and where to stand, be safe, where the fire was heading, changing wind directions etc. We managed that one easily and headed outdoors to do our last test of the morning, a Case 4. This involves a team of three getting water from a tank or dam and taking it into the truck and then use a Case 1 hose to put out a fire. We all got through this well, although I did overwind the Case 1 hose back onto the reel, wetting the instructor. Sigh! (Will I pass with all these mistakes?)

Lunch was a bright spot. All supplied, we had chicken and salad, coleslaw, quiche, scones with jam AND cream, home-made bikkies ... woohoo!!

The afternoon was the BIG SCENARIO. Three trucks left the station, with 14 firemen, driving to a designated area which had been set up as a grass fire scenario. We were instructed to go to various parts, to talk to the controller on the radio and to set up. Lucky me got Coms. Guy and Bev wheeled out the case 1 hose and we found a fire hydrant to connect. The dramas continued, with us having to send water to one of the other trucks, meaning connecting hoses all over the place. I forgot to talk on my phone which probably meant we all got burnt out. Bev turned her hose off which meant she got burnt out. Guy tried very hard to do everything for all three of us but failed, so he probably burnt too.

Finally, we were told to mop up and pack away. Hurrah!!! We headed off down Piccannini St towards the fire station. Just as we drove along behind one of the small station FWDs, we saw the woman on the verge tending a small fire. Well, unless you have a permit, fires are illegal on the island so she looked a little nervous when she saw the two fire trucks. Guy gave his flashing lights a blast and she did this fantastic dance on the spot, arms flailing, eyes bugging, jaw hitting the ground. We totally died laughing!! She's probably still cursing us.

Anyway, WE ALL PASSED. So now we get issued with beepers to tell us when to rush off to the station and attend real fires. On the island, we also have to help out the ambo from time to time and attend car accidents. As a driver, Guy has already been called out once to attend an Ambo. He had to drive the paramedics from the helicopter pad to the house of the patient, where the Ambo was in attendance.

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